Published: 5 July 2017
The Law Society are calling for big changes to civil legal aid provision to help vulnerable people being denied justice, four years after severe cuts left the legal aid landscape in ruins.
In a recently released report, Chancery Lane said that the cuts to legal aid have caused chaos within the courts and costs have been moved to other state agencies, such as the NHS. She believes that this is as a result of spending and eligibility curbs that were implemented through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
A review of the current legislation
Earlier this year, a post-implementation review of LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) was put into motion by the former justice minister, Sir Oliver Heald, before being abandoned due to the General Election. The function of LASPO was to remove lawyers from the justice process, which in turn saves £450m each year; however, The Law Society believe that this has created a ‘false economy’ by making people take their problems elsewhere and stopping them from seeking advice at an early stage. It is because of this that the society believes the review should now be re-opened by the newly formed government.
The 25-recommendation-strong report
Law Society President Robert Bourns said: ‘The demographics of legal aid recipients before 2012 clearly indicate these cuts have fallen disproportionately on the most economically deprived and vulnerable members of society. Early legal advice can help people sort out their problems and prevent them from having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts. This makes a real difference to them but also saves taxpayers’ money.
‘Behind the data are hundreds of thousands of people who can no longer obtain legal aid for matters such as family break up, a range of housing problems, challenges to welfare benefits assessments, employment disputes, or immigration difficulties.’
Back in 2015, this committee suggested within one of their reports that the change had meant a large increase in litigants in person, a fall in mediation, reports of ‘advice deserts’ and ultimately, a growing pressure on the courts.
The latest Law Society reportcontains 25 recommendations for reform and restitution and supports wider claims from other relevant bodies, such as the Commons justice committee of MPs.
The full list of recommendations include:
Proof of the damage that LASPO influences?
Many people have also taken the opportunity to question whether the restriction of legal aid in housing may have been a contribution to the tragedy that occurred at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017.
The report does indeed highlight that many housing cases are not eligible for legal aid, stating that people now have to pay for their own legal advice, conduct a strong representation of themselves or not be involved within the justice system at all. President Robert Bourns added that: ‘There have been reports that tenants of Grenfell Tower were unable to access legal aid to challenge safety concerns because of the cuts. If that is the case then we may have a very stark example of what limiting legal aid can mean.’
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